The ride plan was quite simple. Leave Mead Washington, go up Highway 2 all the way to Bonners Ferry Idaho. Turn off on Highway 1 and shoot up to Creston BC. From there, ride up the east side of Kootenai Lake all the way to the ferry and then cross to Balfour. Make a left at balfour to Nelson and set up home base. Then ride around all day Sunday and come home Monday via Metaline Falls. Simple plan that it was, I did not expect the effect it would have on my heart.
The morning of our ride (Saturday) We were to meet at my brother from another mother, Matt's house, and have our kicks up at 9.
With only a small 20 minute delay, all was according to plan. The ride to the Border was one that I've made many many times over the years. We took a quick detour to avoid Downtown Sandpoint (normally a nice place, but on Memorial day... busy busy busy.) then we headed North to Bonners Ferry, ID. We stopped here for a quick fuel up. Both the bikes and our bellies needed something in the tank. After we filled up the bikes for what we thought was a premium price for premium (we had no idea what was coming), we headed North on Hwy 1.
The road to the border was lined with majestic pine trees, rocky peaks capped with ever so slight whifts of white snow and majestic eagles soaring through the sky. Before we knew it, we were at the border crossing at Porthill. The customs agent tried to be cold and calculating as I handed her my ID, but she was so kind and was actually excited we had chosen to come to Canada. After the typical slew of questions about firearms and declarable items, she wished us well and waved politely. We were in Canada and other than the brain breaking change to KPH from our ingrained MPH measurements it was much the same until we hit Creston BC.
Creston, as some may be aware, is the home of the famed Kokanee Brewery (No we didn't stop). It is a quaint town that is surprisingly clean compared to towns of a similar size in the US. The roads were pristine, the walks were swept, and the buildings were all in decent repair. It was very nice, but in truth, we were not there for the town. What we were looking for was our very first Tim Horton's experience of the trip.
For those who are unfamiliar, Timmy's is Canada's Krispie Cream or Dunkins, but way better. We pulled in and each got our favorite doughnut and coffee combo. We savored the sweet delectable treat and the ultra smooth and flavorful coffee. We chatted with a few of the exceedingly polite locals and suited up and hit the 3A for our ride to Kootenay Bay. 80 Kilometers, or, if we do the math, 50 Miles of amazing views and even more amazing roads were to follow. Every corner we made opened up to an epic view of snow capped mountains, every straightaway was festooned with epic evergreen forests and pristine views of Kootenai Lake. When we were about halfway to the ferry terminal, we happened upon an interesting site. A house made of glass bottles. Lived in until the late 50's, the Glass House in Boswell BC is quite the interesting stop. Built
After about an hour, walking around the Glass house, we hopped back on our bikes and finished our ride north to the Kootenai Ferry Terminal.
We missed the 4:10 ferry and had a little over an hour to wait until the next. We secured our bikes and decided to check out the coffee stand slash cafe that was only a few meters away. As we lock our lids to the bikes, a curly haired gentleman in black slacks and a black MotoGP shirt, comes up to us speaking French as if we would completely understand what he was saying. Fortunately enough, I happen to be learning French and was able to confuse the poor man with my expertly accented three phrases that I know. All told, and if I understood correctly, he was on a journey across Canada from coast to coast. I did figure out that he, in fact, was French, and not just from Quebec, which is primarily French speaking. Fortunately he seemed to understand as I muddled through the language, telling him that my wife is from Quebec and that we are now living in Spokane. After a few more attempts at friendly banter we headed over for Crème glacée (Ice Cream) and fortunately, the owner spoke both
The Ferry finally arrived. It was actually on time. We were wanting to get moving as the temperature was making it hard to stand around. There were signs all over saying that Motorcycles did not get Priority boarding. This was ok, since we didn't really care, however as we pulled on the large boat, they moved us up to the front of 2 empty lines. There were a total of 6 motorcycles and we all were parked together. After exchanging pleasantries and the mandatory "where are you from" questions, we explored the ship, and the shop on the ship. There were decks to view the scenery on and little benches to sit on and enjoy the trip. After a while we bored of our self guided tour and we went back
to our bikes and stood on the bow and let the breeze cool us down. With 5 minutes left in the ride, we suited up and put our gear back on. There wasn't priority boarding, but we sure were the first off. Just like that, we were in Balfour. One left turn and we were on our way to Nelson BC. The trip was only supposed to take 30 minutes to get from Balfour to Nelson, however it was not to be because, between the surprise road construction, and the three separate Buicks driven by ancient old men who were not in any kind of a hurry, the trip took about 45 minutes. Nelson was very welcoming though. It is a beautiful town that is very lush and green. There were a couple hotels we were planning on trying to stay at, but since we didn't get a reservation we were forced to play rooming roulette. The first we checked were booked solid, and the second was just too fancy for a couple of guys on bikes. Fortunately we finally found the Prestige Inn. They had a clean and comfortable room with 2 queen beds. Just right for 2 exhausted, middle aged, motorcycle riders. We unloaded the bikes, took off our panniers and got everything into the room. We decided to go find some dinner. After a quick internet search we ended up getting pizza at Thor's Pizza. It filled the void and satisfied our hunger.
6 A.M. Sunday morning, I woke up naturally, without the need for an alarm. That was two days in a row that my body has decided that it didn’t want to sleep anymore. My bro was still sawing logs, so I took the opportunity to reflect on what we were going to do that morning. In the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:11 says “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has even put eternity in their heart; yet mankind will never find out the work that the true God has made from start to finish.” What I had seen so far of Canada, this is absolutely true! I was certain that this would hold true for this days ride.
Once Matt got up and around, we readied ourselves and went to get our breakfast that was provided by the Hotel.
The Prestige is actually 2 separate buildings separated by a quarter mile. The Prestige Inn, where we were staying, was 3 floors of pretty standard rooms at a reasonable price. The Prestige Resort, however had all the amenities. Pools, Jacuzzis, fitness centers and restaurants. One would think that if you stayed at the Inn, you got the short end of the stick. Not so with the Prestige. If you stay at the Inn, you can use all the amenities of the Resort without an extra charge. Not only that, but you can have your free breakfast at the fabulous West Coast Grill. (free breakfast is eggs, toast, bacon and hashbrowns). You can also choose to use your free breakfast voucher for $10 dollars off any other menu item, which is an excellent value if you so choose. After breakfast, it was time for our adventure. We hopped on our bikes and left nelson heading west on Highway 6 (3A at this point).
The ride from Nelson to Playmor, where we turned North to head to New Denver was excellent to warm us up. Straits, Twisties and 80-90 KPH speed limits were just what we needed to get us ready for the epic circle we had chosen for our journey this day. From Playmor Junction all the way to Slocan, the roads were smooth as silk with traffic that was so light, that we were free to relax and see some of the gorgeous splendor of the area. We passed small little townships with bustling cafes and shops, campgrounds, golf courses and other various businesses that were doing a fair amount of business. It was a beautiful area and a beautiful ride all the way to Slocan, but the roads were not all that spectacular. That all changed when we came to Slocan Lake. The next 32 Kilometers between Slocan at the South end of the lake and New Denver were absolutely epic. Our altitude varied between just under 600 meters, to just above 800 meters. All along the foothills of the Selkirk mountains. We had amazing views of the lake below, with the turquoise glint that let you know that the water came from ancient glaciers and also hinted that the water was more than likely colder than cold. There was barely a shoulder on the road and when it started to feel a bit exiting, that is the point the road started to twist like a snake fighting for its life. We rode around with sheer rock walls on our right, drop offs that led to the freezing water below, ever so close to our left and cascading waterfalls that seemed to be within arms reach of the road. The onslaught continued for a while until we mercifully dropped in to the small town of Silverton. From that point on, the road felt much like the last few yards of a rollercoaster where you may have a few little turns but they are super tame after the wild ride that you were on. We rolled in to New Denver and fueled up or bikes and got our bearings for the next leg of the journey. The time had come, finally, to take one of the best motorcycle roads on the continent. Highway 31A, the road from New Denver to Kaslo BC, has been heralded as a “Destination Highway”,
meaning that people will actually travel from far and wide to drive this route. From the moment we turned on to the highway, it was obvious as to the reason this highway is so popular. The terrain changes are amazing. I have ridden fast roads, I have ridden slow roads. I have ridden some with way too many twists for sightseeing, and some that are so straight you that you consider rolling on the throttle, just to get it over with. Hwy 31A was the best mix of both kinds of road, excellently maintained with ample curves and switchbacks to keep nearly every rider on his or her toes but with enough of a respite between to take in the amazing beauty of the area. We saw so many waterfalls along this route, that I lost count somewhere after 20, I suspect that there were more like 30-40 of them all sourced from the snow capped mountains that you only had to gaze up to see.
We rolled in to Kaslo at about 1:30 pm and we both decided we needed a break and decided to look around a bit. We parked the bikes and walked through the spartan main street of Kaslo B.C (Front Street). We poked our heads in to a few little boutique shops and purchased some souvenirs for our families. We decided to take a peek at the museum and take in some of the rich local history. The Moyie sternwheeler steamship, aka. The Museum, was a fascinating look at the history of the region.
Directly to the right of the door leading to the pool, you could step in to the cave that housed the inlet for the lovely hot water. The steam in the dark cave was so nice, and the sound of rushing water soothed the road noise from our brains. Stepping out of the darkness after ten minutes or so, we found that to the left of the entrance they had a small round pool, about the size of a hot tub. Stepping in to this pool, we realized quickly that this was a cold pool. By cold, I mean cold. It was fed by a small creek that had its start in the massive Kootenai Glacier in the mountains above us. We both stepped in to our waists and then figured out that it wasn’t for us. Ultimately, after a few more trips between the main pool and the cave pool, we mustered enough courage to dunk ourselves directly into the cold, cold water, all the way to our heads. This experience changed the game. We took a few more trips between the hot and cold water and we felt absolutely invigorated from the experience. Even though it may seem insignificant, one thing that impressed us was that the changing room had a device that spun all the water out of your swimsuit. I know it’s cheesy but it was really cool and sounded like a Harley Davidson rumbling down the road when you pushed the door closed.
Ten minutes past Ainsworth we saw a familiar site, the Balfour ferry landing. At this point we picked up another rider in our line and the 3 of us stayed together enjoying the curvy road until he pulled off, just before Nelson. The welcoming facade of the hotel came in to view. We parked the bikes, took the bags to the room and walked over to the grocery store for something to eat. We ate our Safeway deli food, and enjoyed a few of the local beers that we purchased for the evening, watched a few movies on the tv and dozed off, ending our absolutely epic ride day.
I woke up again around 6:30 A.M. on the day we headed for home. I quietly started getting my things together so as not to disturb Matt. I got myself ready for the day and about a half hour later Matt started doing the same. We packed all of our stuff in to our panniers, top cases and duffels and got ready to head home. Hopping on the bikes, we headed to the resort. We had our breakfast, drank our coffee and hit the road for home. We took Highway 6 heading south from Nelson. This route was much faster than the roads we had traveled so far. We must have been tired, as we took turns reading road signs and making semi witty quips about them. About the time we reached Salmo, we decided to stop for a bathroom break. We took the opportunity to wash the various forms of bug guts off our windshields and get a quick snack. We hopped back on the road and knocked out the last few kilometers to the border.
The US Border crossing experience was quite different from the Canadian border. Yes, they had the same questions about fruits and vegetables, firearms and other declarables, and the officer was decent enough. After all he was just doing his job, but the difference in the rules was completely obvious. Needless to say, the interview stopped short of the body cavity search and the officer let us cross. We continued south toward the last good twisties of our trip, in Metaline Falls, Washington. We pushed through the miles with the mixed feelings of heading home after an amazing trip.
Just north of Cusick Washington, we came upon an accident. A fellow motorcyclist had hit the ground. He had EMS personnel all around him checking him over. He seemed awake and he was gesturing with his hands, so it seemed he would be ok. We pulled in to Cusick to fuel up and decided waiting for the onslaught of Emergency vehicles that were sure to race by any moment would be best. We waited a for a while, but they never came, so we trudged on.
We finally met up with US Highway 2, and just like that we were on the home stretch. From the Junction we followed Highway 2 until we figured out that holiday traffic really sucked. We turned off on some of our favorite back roads and slinked around the all to familiar roads to Matt’s house. We pulled in and said our goodbyes and then I headed home to the loving embrace of my lovely wife (that is after the dog got her two cents in). The ride had ended and it was time to get back to reality. I really like Canada. No one was being hateful or unkind. Doors were held open, “thank you” was said constantly. It was so refreshing to be able to start a conversation with just about anyone and have them willing, almost eager to converse. This trip really helped me to de-stress and recuperate, after all, that is what vacations are for. I have a while to plan the next one, who knows where our wanderlust will take us next.